Burial Rites (Kent)

Burial Rites 
Hannah Kent, 2013
Little, Brown & Co.
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316243919

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Toti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Adelaide, Australia
Education—Ph.D., Flinders University (in progress)
Awards—Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award
Currently—lives in Adelaide, Australia

Hannah Kent is a contemporary Australian writer, as well as the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings. She is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award

Kent was included in the 2013 Waterstones 11 for her debut novel Burial Rites (2013), which revisits the true story of Agnes Magnúsdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/16/2013.)

Book Reviews
[A] debut of rare sophistication and beauty—a simple but moving story, meticulously researched and hauntingly told.
Lucy Scholes - Guardian (UK)

If you read nothing else this fall, read Burial Rites: The pages turn themselves
Steph Opitz - Marie Claire

Kent’s debut delves deep into Scandinavian history, not to mention matters of storytelling, guilt, and silence. Based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the novel is set in rural Iceland in 1829. Agnes is awaiting execution for the murder of her former employer and his friend.... The multilayered story paints sympathetic and complex portraits of Agnes, the Jonssons, and the young priest, whose motives for helping the convict are complicated.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [A] retelling of real-life events from 1828, Iceland, when Agnes Magnusdottir and two others are convicted and sentenced to death in a brutal double murder thought to have been motivated by greed and jealousy.... [T]his compulsively readable novel entertains while illuminating a significant but little-known true story. Highly recommended. —Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Rarely has a country's starkness and extreme weather been rendered so exquisitely. The harshness of the landscape and the lifestyle of nineteenth-century Iceland, with its dank turf houses and meager food supply, is as finely detailed as the heartbreak and tragedy of Agnes' life.... [A]haunting reading from a bright new talent. —Joanne Wilkinson

(Starred review.) Kent deftly reveals the mysterious relationship between Agnes...and now-dead Natan Ketilsson, a healer, some say a sorcerer, for whom she worked as a housekeeper. Kent writes movingly of Natan's seduction of the emotionally stunted Agnes.... The narrative is revealed in third person, interspersed with Agnes' compelling first-person accounts...before the novel reaches an inevitable, realistic and demanding culmination. A magical exercise in artful literary fiction.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
What do you make of the historical documents (both real and fictionalized) that begin each chapter? How did these change or aid your understanding of Agnes’s story? 2

2. Agnes often comments on the ways in which she has been silenced, or had her story altered by the authorities. Why do you think she has such an anguished relationship to language?

3. Fate and destiny are major themes in this novel, for Agnes seems fated to have come to the end she does. Could she have escaped this destiny? Was there a turning point in her life that she might have avoided?

4. Are Steina, Lauga and Margret changed by Agnes’s time with them? Has her fate changed theirs in any way?

5. Death is a major theme in this novel, but it is also about life and living. When Agnes faces the day of her execution all she wants to do is live, despite the harrowing nature of the life she has endured. Discuss.

6. Blondal is the real villain of this piece. His dispassionate communications with those whom he controls are filled with venom and spite. What did you make of his decision to lodge Agnes with District Officer Jon and his family? What do you believe happened at Stora—Borg that caused Blondal to move Agnes to Kornsa?

7. Toti’s interest in Agnes’s case begins as a young cleric wanting to prove himself to his elders, to a sincere desire to defend a condemned woman. His growth in compassion and his readiness to stand up to his seniors is one of the most significant themes in this novel. Discuss.

8. Agnes goes to her death holding Toti’s hand, for they have discovered a deep need for each other. Is this story ultimately about the loneliness of our end in life? Or does it celebrate the comfort that a person can bring to the dying? Discuss.

9. Hannah Kent calls her novel a "dark love letter to Iceland" in her Acknowledgements. What does she mean by this? Did you read the novel in this way?
(Questions issued by the publisher.

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